Chapter 7 here … Chapter 9 here
Sophie and Janine did the last leg back to the island via proa, a native sailing craft, they climbed the steps of the Big House and went straight through to the Prime Minister.
Brandies were handed to them, they sat in the armchairs, the PM on the couch and they shared all they knew.
The last few kilometres were by helicopter for Hugh and Julia, both being dropped directly at the hospital, lowered in fact, orderlies came from everywhere and the room had been prepared.
They worked for some time, then all paused.
The senior medico went over to her. ‘He’ll live all right but there seems damage to the nerves and various other less vital complications. This is going to be a case of good care, a long convalescence and lots of support. I’ve seen people come out of these things before and I’ve seen them … not.
Don’t be upset if he doesn’t recognize anyone – he’ll judge by what he’s seeing and feeling at the time. I think you should prepare for the worst case scenario, which is that he’ll remain more or less like this for the foreseeable future. The best scenario is that he’ll make a full physical recovery but mentally? That's anyone’s guess at this point.’
She nodded and took her leave, walking aimlessly back along the path, then went up the steps to the Big House. The way the staff rushed to take her things, the way they ushered her into the Long Room, the way the PM acted most un-PM like, jumping up from his chair and rushing to embrace her, it was all too much for her.
He asked if she’d like a brandy.
‘You know, I think I’d really love that,’ she grinned and watched him scurrying over to pour it. The liquid went down fine and there was the Prime Minister of her nation, opposite her, like an eager child. Oh, she was going to adore this evening.
Two weeks in an attic. Emma thought she might write a book about that.
The removal of the bullet had been painful but was now in the past. It had been the same for Rory. She'd thought of looking after him but when he'd taken to looking after her instead, she had no violent objections and thought a bit of pampering never hurt.
They were eating basically what the man had downstairs in the cupboard plus a slight increase he'd brought in. Gradually, she'd suggested a few other things he could buy in, she'd insisted he take the money and the road to recovery was underway.
Her bed had been made more substantial, things were as good as they were going to be, the only question was personal hygiene. She'd had to use a potty and Rory had had to assist with holding her body in order to do this.
Washing was also a problem. She took care of most of herself with a sponge but he took care of her back and other leg. Both were aware of the effect this was having and she'd already thought about the physical barrier her injury placed between her staying this side of the line and doing something she'd regret.
He was of the old school in some ways and respected Hugh. That was keeping him in a prim and proper frame of mind, remembering always that they'd both be speaking with Hugh at the island before long.
Actually, in some ways, thought Emma, Rory was quite boringly upright. She knew his thoughts because she'd caught the look a few times and now, with him sitting at the foot of her bed, she caught the latest look and smiled back at him.
'I don't want you on that moth-eaten mattress of yours tonight.'
He looked at her, long and hard. 'Are you serious? What about Hugh?'
She sighed. 'I didn't mean sleeping with me. I meant just to be held before I fell asleep.'
He looked at her again, laid down beside her, on her good side and put an arm around her.
Sophie dropped in on Hugh, late evening, for the umpteenth time these two weeks and was surprised to again find Julia there with him.
What surprised her even more was that the girl had her hand over his and was speaking under her breath although, in his coma, he couldn't hear anything she was saying. To Sophie, it sounded like terms of endearment and remorse at what they'd done. No doubt some enterprising medico had got close enough to hear what was being said but they'd hardly tell her, Sophie.
The girl seemed to be working herself into a lather over him and that couldn't be good from anyone's point of view. For a start, once Emma returned, the girl would be cut off, abandoned from her object of reverence. Then there was the question of Hugh himself - if he ever came out of it.
Sophie could take a set against the girl, warning her off, rationalizing, whatever but she read her as a determined miss. By far the better plan was to take Julia back to her hut and talk to her, find out how it lay between Hugh and her, make decisions based on that.
Yes, that was the better way.
'Julia.' She turned around sharply and looked at Sophie, who continued, 'Fancy meeting you here again. Any changes?' Julia shook her head. 'Come back with me tonight. You're alone, I'm alone and I'd really like your company.'
'I ...' she thought about it. 'All right.'
Julia was many things but she wasn't that way inclined and she didn't share the continental lack of complexes over men and women. To Sophie, it was par for the course to spend the night with Julia. To Julia, this was not what she was about.
She was trapped though. Now in Sophie's hut, she'd thought they were going to sit and talk but when Sophie had done her toilet and come back to her bed, the penny had dropped. Julia stood on the rush matting, not knowing what to do.
'It's talk, Julia, just talk.'
Gingerly, the girl sat on the edge of the bed, then allowed herself to lie down. Sophie threw the light cover over her and asked, 'Tell me about what happened. Not the things you told us all in the Big Room - the other things. How far did it go with Hugh? Don't worry, I'm my own person, I'm not Hugh's spy, nor am I Emma's - of that you can be sure.'
Julia obviously wanted to get it off her chest and as Sophie did seem neutral in the matter, she talked about how he'd looked after her, the night in the kiosk, the final night but Sophie wasn't satisfied.
'The feeling you were showing in the hospital room was not for a man who merely looked after you. I don't want you hurt once Emma returns.'
'We kissed. I was a bit ... maybe a bit naughty because he was trying to be good.'
'He still touched you though.'
'He was a gentleman.'
'A gentleman touching a young operative he'd been sent to rescue.'
'That's horrible. It wasn't like that at all. I began to have ... feelings.'
'We became close.'
'What happens when Emma comes back?'
'I suppose I just go back to normal duties.'
She sighed. 'I don't know. Look, I know why you're asking - everyone calls you his guardian angel and I want to tell you it's OK. That's why I told you those things. What are your own feelings?'
'Complicated but I can keep to the straight path.'
'Don't you want someone of your own?'
'Yes but not yet. I'm not in any sort of condition to do that and I wouldn't like to be that man. I'll just keep doing this for some time.'
'But what if Emma doesn't want you near him?'
'I won't be near him. Emma knows I'll be on the same island though.'
Emma looked up at Rory and stroked his hair, then ran her hand over his face.
It hadn't reached consummation, due to the physical constraints but it had gone up to that point. How the madness had seen her descend so quickly from a kiss to performing certain things upon him, how he, whom everyone assumed was an item with Janine, could have descended to this without the slightest restraint shocked her to the core.
She knew she'd never stay with Rory because he'd do to the next girl what they were now doing to Janine ... and to her husband. If she hadn't been married, it would have been bad enough but she was married and had sworn undying love.
There was a syndrome with Hugh. When he was there, she could imagine being with no other but at this distance, she was definitely susceptible.
Perhaps she simply shouldn't be married. Perhaps it had been wrong, perhaps she wasn't capable of being faithful and honest - exactly what she demanded of her men.
Men. Of her men. Not of her man. Her men, plural. She didn't like herself now, not at all, Rory now sensed this and went back to his bed.
'We've had a message through,' the Prime Minister told Sophie next morning. 'Rory and Emma are recovering well and should be here within eight days. Rory's used the place before - he knows the people.'
He looked across at Sophie. 'I'd like to ask you, Mademoiselle, if you would come up to the Big House for some time. I know of your independence but a lady in this society, on this island, does not remain alone in a hut. If you insist, then I'll accede but I confess I could do with the company. And there's one other aspect.'
'I'd like Julia up here too. If we could distract her a little, keep her company, she might spend just a little less time at the hospital. As you can see,' he indicated behind her head, 'there are three large rooms. The nearest is mine and the other two would belong to both of you. There is a lounge through the fourth door, where you can sit and look out if you like. And talk. The rooms are better furnished in this house than in the huts. I confess I'd like the company of two ladies, also just to know someone else was in the house at night.'
When she didn't respond, he added, 'I know it's an impertinence.'
'No,' replied Sophie, 'it's not an impertinence in the least. I think it's the best arrangement all round. When?'
He was overjoyed. 'At your leisure, Mademoiselle, at your leisure.'
Sophie grinned. Was she so special as to cause this reaction? 'I'll get my things today. Do you want me to speak to Julia?'
'No, she's coming up here ... after visiting Hugh. Are you going that way today?'
'In a few minutes.'
Sophie moved like a panther on those soft pads of feet and Julia never heard her enter the hospital room.
She was on her knees on the floor, close to his chest and was kissing him on the lips, her hand running over the back of his head. Now she noticed Sophie and rather than jump up, she looked at the other mournfully. 'I don't want him to die.'
'He's not going to die, Julia. The Prime Minister is waiting for you. I've come from him now.'
Julia got up, straightened herself, looked back at Hugh, then departed.
Night had fallen when they heard the helicopter outside of the Big House and all three residents raced out to the large verandah, Julia first, then Sophie, followed a long way back by the PM.
The dust scattered in all directions, the chopper blades chopped loudly, they landed, officers jumped down and offered to assist Rory but he waved them away and climbed down, then they turned to the hatch and Emma appeared, sat on the floor at the hatch, placed two crutches under her shoulders, the ends on the ground and lowered herself.
She'd wanted to do that but now her strength deserted her and she swayed back and forth. The stretcher which had been at the ready was now employed, she was carried the few paces to the steps and up into the house.
The PM indicated her room. She was set up in the bed, the PM called for Mara and explained, an item which would double for a pot was brought, Sophie went in and he stepped out, a few minutes elapsed, Sophie took it out, they went back in, Emma was propped up, chairs were taken and they were seated around the bed.
She indicated she'd already eaten and her first question was, 'Hugh?'
The PM replied. 'He's sleeping. Let him sleep for now, Emma. He's here with us, of course ... he was ... hurt in the evacuation ... so he needs this sleep. Let's get through this night and you'll see him first thing tomorrow morning.
Julia was wooden faced but what disturbed Sophie mightily was that Rory had adopted a seating position so close to Emma.
The deeply sympathetic looks told a tale and Sophie's heart sank. In fact, a seemingly irrational annoyance began in her and it had as much to do with Albus, Belus and the truth they'd tried to get her, Sophie, to rise to. And now, here was Emma doing precisely what Albus and Belus had not stood for.
Emma caught her expression and gave herself away completely because she looked sharply at the PM, the least threatening person in the room, to see if he'd picked up on it. In that second, mere suspicion became a raging torrent of anger.
Sophie got up and swiftly left the room, Emma's eyes followed her and immediately she knew how bad it was. Rory didn't seem aware, the PM might have been but said nothing, Julia had a gleam in her eye.
In the embarrassing silence, the PM said, 'Well, perhaps we'll all wait till tomorrow and get some rest now. Is there anything you need, Emma, apart from towels and so on? How will you manage through the night?'
'Who's next door?'
'Julia, I'll try not to but if I call out or bang on your wall, would you come through?'
'Of c-o-u-r-s-e I will, Mrs. Jensen.' She was looking straight at Emma and had said that in a way which left Emma in little doubt she'd been sprung.
Sophie was sitting, brooding, on one of the two chairs on the verandah. She caught Rory on the way out and asked for a minute or two. He sat down on the other.
'Why, Rory? She's married to Hugh.'
His shoulders sagged. 'How did you -'
'It was so damned obvious in there. You were so obvious. Emma gave herself away immediately. I repeat - why did you fuck her?'
'None of your business.'
'Look, I can either grill you or I can grill Emma. Which would you prefer?'
'What ... what will you do?'
'Is that your only concern - self-preservation? I read you as better than that, Rory.'
'Yes, it's a nightmare.'
'Do you love her?'
'She loves me.'
'Do you love her?'
'We were thrown together, I got too close.'
'Do you love her?'
'I don't know. Even if I did, what can I do, now she's back with Hugh?'
'Did you fuck her?'
'Don't talk like that. No, it wouldn't have been possible with her ...'
'You make it seem so sordid.'
'That's because it is sordid or did that not go through your mind when you were in bed with this crippled woman?'
'You know the circumstances we were in. You know we were in that room together for weeks and I even had to help her do her ablutions and her washing. There was no one else there.'
'You wouldn't get to fuck me if you didn't love me.'
'She does love me.'
'But you don't. You took advantage. Janine returns in two days.'
'Gee, you really have it in for me, don't you?'
'Yes. You did everything but that ... didn't you?'
There was silence. Then he asked, 'May I go now? I'm very tired.'
'That's entirely up to you, Rory - all your actions are up to you.'
He rose, shaking his head and took his leave. After twenty seconds, the PM came out to the verandah with two brandies and sat in the chair Rory had vacated. 'Not good, Sophie.'
'No, not good at all. I take it you saw it in Emma's room and you heard it just now.'
'I missed most of it in her room but heard this now. I saw Julia's triumph in there. Your take on it?'
'There's something Hugh doesn't like about Emma. I've heard all about his Nicolette and he seemed to adore her to pieces - he'd never have gone to Julia if he'd been with this Nicolette. He'd have sent me and made all sorts of arguments why. I don't think he resents Emma or anything like that and I do think he loves her but there's something, something in her he doesn't like. There’s an element which cools his ardour.'
‘Can I give my assessment?’
‘I’ve heard bits and pieces, Emma’s talked to Janine, so had Hugh, she doesn’t spill the beans to me but does bring up things which worry her and this does. The one he was besotted by – it’s very difficult, if she dies that way, for the next person to fill those shoes. He has her on a pedestal or close to it. There was talk that she always put him N1 but it seems Emma feels that too.’
‘Except she doesn’t act it. Chris Jones, there have been others, there’s Rory now. If I can hijack your commentary, it seems to me she has a self-control problem with men, as Hugh does with women. In Paris, her position in that Section and her marriage, her baby, meant she couldn’t give vent to that feeling and so her reputation was good. Plus she’s always on about fidelity, I think now trying to convince herself.’
‘When she came together with Hugh, I think there was a disaster waiting to happen once they made land. He spoke of it to her. Girls do talk. If Hugh had kept his eyes on her instead of on his work –’
‘Why wouldn’t he keep his mind on his work at work?’
‘Emma wants someone with her almost all of the time. Out in that office, there was no longer Hugh. There was no one else for a while until along came Chris Jones on a mission – to seduce her. Hugh knew about it eventually but from a surveillance point of view. The rest happened. When he became angry with her, it became worse – Chris never said harsh things.’
‘She’s not a child, Sophie.’
‘Some people need people, kind people, some can do without. Hugh saw these things and didn’t like them but more importantly, didn’t like her, didn’t like this in her, she knew it and wanted it to be right but the only person who could have made it right – Hugh – was now not happy with her and she had no one at all to speak to. No one, no family in this country, I don’t count as countrywoman.
She changed her vote and went north, she did it for good reasons, self-sacrifice, it wasn’t from any desire to be with Rory although it was going to be nice to see him and see Janine too. I know how she was because I held her in my arms that first night.’
‘So if what you say is right, she does not have Hugh to go to now, nor Julia whom she now has ideas about with her Hugh, there’s still Rory in her mind although he no longer wants – that was what happened over there. She won’t go to you because you’ve said some harsh things to her. She might come to me. Does Hugh love you?'
‘Ah. He's very loyal to me, he definitely has feelings my way but I still think Emma is more his type, as far as he sees it. He would tire of me because I'm not soft enough. Emma is much softer and more loyal but she also stands up to him and there is this other factor of her and men.'
'Are you devoted to him?'
'Would you have him as a partner if Emma was not about?'
'It depends on many things - my mind, my personalities. How each of us would feel.'
'What should we do?'
She told him of finding Julia in the hospital room and what was happening. The PM ran his fingers through his greying hair and sighed. 'They seem to have been lovers. Not good at all.'
‘There's something wrong with that girl, something seriously wrong. I’m not sure they did make love and that might be why she is so loyal. Perhaps Hugh did see that element in her and backed away. She could still be enemy but she does have it bad for him.’
'And tomorrow, Emma finds out about Hugh. Two officers will take her there. I plan to be in the medicos' office next door. Sorry if that's eavesdropping but this is too important. Promise me you'll keep Julia here. I'll report to you later.'
'I take that as a yes. Another tipple?' He reached for the bottle but she excused herself and went to bed.
With the daylight came a brighter mood all round and first in was Rory, to warn Emma they'd been sprung.
She'd known that last evening, she told him. 'It was so wrong, Rory. So wrong. I don't understand it myself.'
'You have feelings for me.'
'Yes but do you?'
'You know that.'
'And Janine?' He went silent and she went on. 'I have to meet Hugh this morning and I can't face him. I love him but I can't face him.’
‘Meet him. Then think things through.’
He took his leave. Mara came through with breakfast; after twenty minutes, Sophie came through and between the two of them, they took care of Emma's toilet.
Sophie said not a word and Emma didn't dare speak. Eventually, Mara took all the things out and then there were just the two women. Sophie looked hard into her eyes, she turned away and still Sophie said nothing.
Finally, Emma asked, 'How much do you know?'
She replied, 'I think all of it – the Prime Minister does too. When Emma heard this last part, she buried her head in her hands.
'Does Hugh know yet?'
'No. If anyone will tell him, it will be you.'
'Yes, yes, it will be me. How is he? Will I see him this morning?'
'In twenty minutes, yes, you'll see him. Two men will come to collect you.'
'But why doesn't he just come up here? Is he all right?'
'You'll have to ask him that, Emma. Last night I asked Rory why he fucked you. Now I'm going to ask you the same question.’
‘I didn’t. We were close –’
‘You did everything but that with a man who was not your husband. I’m now doing to tell you what the Prime Minister and I discussed about you. Do you want me to?’
No. Yes. Go on. Yes.
Emma listened to it, mortified, particularly about her problem with men.
The orderlies came to get her.
Just inside the door of the hospital, in the anteroom, they set up the trolley and went back outside. The chief medico came through and greeted her, welcoming her back and promised her she'd be wheeled through to see her husband in one moment.
He then gave the medical history of Hugh's injuries, which pretty well covered the other events as well and before she even had time to ask, he assured her that Mr. Jensen would not die but that they were still unsure what would happen. He was currently in an induced coma and had to remain that way, in order for the healing to take place.
Up to this point, she was hardly able to breathe, now she gasped and an orderly came through with a syringe. The doctor explained what it was and why he was worried about her state, particularly in the light of her own injury, she consented and asked, 'How many minutes?'
'About five or six.'
The injection was given and she was wheeled through.
The sight which greeted her was one she'd never wished to see ever. It had to have been his most inelegant position, he looked all of his years, bereft, as he was, of his vibrancy, his sharpness and the whole horror of her situation hit her. She passed out.
Jean-Claude opened their front door and stood back for Geneviève to go through. She threw down her bag, put the coffee on, he did a few things and then they took the coffee to the low table.
‘On a scale from one to ten, how satisfied were you? he asked.
‘Mmm … maybe 7 … 8. Maybe 8. Just to be so close, to see that countryside – it wasn’t just the farmhouse I knew; I knew the surrounding land too and I’ve driven through there many times. Tragedy that we couldn’t just see the rest of it, to set eyes on the Lodge. Your idea was fabulous though – someone takes a photo. That’s going to help, Jean-Claude … and one of my old flat. That will suffice for a long time. How do you feel?’
‘Same. I’d love to have seen Paris, Café Jardin, had a meal with friends, you know the sort of thing. But it was still home.'
When Emma awoke, it was late in the day but she couldn't immediately know that. She looked across at her husband and he'd shifted position but was still out like a light.
Now he wasn't such a shock and even looked at peace. She reached out and touched his hand, then placed her own over his. Did he smile or was that her imagination?
She repeated his name, over and over and it didn't get her any closer to a solution.
Too easily she'd succumbed to Rory. He had feelings for her, she knew that. Well maybe not ‘knew’ but hoped.
She'd chosen Hugh but then he’d become distant, even cruel to her - had her feelings disappeared? Had his? Why? The business in England had been very hard on them both and they hadn't handled it at all well, either of them.
There was something in Hugh she couldn't control - he always had the upper hand and she wasn't used to that, she didn't like it and she always felt herself second to Nikki who was kidding herself that she was going to be faithful.
If she went to Rory, Hugh would go to Sophie or the girl. Better Sophie. No, she was better than either. Oh, she didn’t know.
There was a rustling of the mosquito curtain and in came Julia who gave her that look.
'How often do you come here, Julia?'
'So I heard. Why so much?'
'I think you know. What you did with Rory - I'm not judging you but I wouldn't have done that to my husband.'
Emma was about to rip back but realized she was in a very weak position.
Julia continued. 'Mrs. Jensen, I did not go all the way with your husband in the end. He stopped. Perhaps that's why I love him. You're thinking of going to Rory, aren't you? I see it in your eyes. If you do, I shall stay with Hugh forever. And if something happens to me, Sophie will always look after him. So don't feel too bad about it. You go to your Rory and make him happy if you can. We won't think badly of you.'
Emma was boiling, Julia was watching every facial movement and Emma knew fullwell she was being wound up, which made it fractionally easier. The thing was, she had no answers, felt only weariness gripping her now and needed to rest.
'Please ask the doctor to come in and let me sleep. Please let me sleep now.'
Sitting by herself down at the water's edge this evening, her favourite spot, Sophie played with a long stem of grass and reflected that Rory and Emma were plain not on. She didn't just mean morally but it wasn't a combination which would work. Rory didn’t want her. Emma was too married in the way she acted, she was too orthodox, too bourgeois for Rory. He’d make her very unhappy.
Julia? She might be all right for him, he might want her but more likely he’d want Emma. Not her, Sophie.
At that moment, dusk falling, Julia came down to the water's edge and sat beside her, Sophie put one arm around her. 'I've been thinking about you.'
'No, actually. Quite the opposite.' She outlined her thinking of the last half hour and felt the girl's body move a few times.
Julia sighed. 'He makes me laugh. I've seen his other side too but I think I can stand that. People think I'm the wicked one but I saw her eyes, just as you did. She's leaving him for Rory.'
‘Julia, may I say some things? You don’t know me well but you’ve heard my history. I don’t think you’re wrong for Hugh because he’s had some surprising relationships, he would look after you until you wanted something different. Perhaps you never would. The problem is Emma.’
‘I detest what she’s doing.’
‘Yes, I know. We all do. But that happened while they were a long way apart and be fair – look what he did too with you. They would have problems. Rory doesn’t want her and doesn’t know how to tell her. I want what’s best for everyone here, not just Hugh. If you turn out best for him, then I want that. If he stays with her for the wrong reason, then I’ll talk to him. He also has thoughts about me but I can’t see it. I want someone too and I’m going to try to find someone. If he and his wife want each other again, I don’t think either you or I can break them apart, no matter what she did. If she wakes up and does the right thing, then it’s not our place.’
‘I know. I know he loves me.’
Sophie sighed. 'Let's go for a swim.'
They were all gathered in the Big Room, even Emma, back on crutches, they seated themselves and the Prime Minister opened.
‘Let’s get down to business. We've a major hit on the drawing board but only two people are going in - Rory and Julia - they're the two hardest and fastest. According to R, one of the eight who were in the UK was certainly a traitor.’
‘R?’ asked Rory.
‘Our lady in the cabinet office.’
‘Yes, as you put it, flipp’n 'eck. I'm not risking Janine and besides, I have other tasks for her, further afield. This is a get in - do the job - get out affair.’
'Two days from now.'
Rory now put in some time with Julia and they discussed everything except the hot topic of the moment. They walked up the beach, they walked back, they walked through the village, they walked back.
He was eventually satisfied and felt she'd keep up with him. 'Now you can ask me those other things.'
'Both of us slept with a Jensen.'
'Yes, we’re unique, aren’t we? All right, Julia - what's your line?'
'I love Hugh. If Mrs. Jensen goes to you, I go to him.'
'Phew. Now that's upping the ante, isn't it?
'Do you want Emma? Forever, I mean?'
'Why is everyone so final about things, so extreme?'
'That's a cop-out, Rory. I know you very well.'
'I'm not evil, Julia. I just like my freedom. I'm not ready for something serious like that.'
'Then why did you put your fingers in her and your thing in her mouth?'
'Sophie's been talking to you, hasn't she? All right - we were thrown together, I felt a lot, she did too, it happened.'
‘You don’t want her.’
‘Julia, enough, OK?’
On the last night on the island, all things packed, ready for an 08:00 airlift, Rory checked over his list and felt he was ready.
He’d gone to Emma one last time, near her hut and had taken her hand for some minutes. She'd pulled away but knew she was suffering inside. He tried to kiss her but she wouldn't allow it and then did. Then she'd scurried back inside.
Back now at his own hut, he started to focus on the mission.
He dropped off to sleep. The helicopter would leave at 04:00.
Julia arrived at 03:30 and just strolled in, shone the light and kept it on him until he’d dressed.
The flight, as usual, was long and boring; they played some cards; they looked out of the tiny porthole windows at blackness; the helicopter went down for a refuel and then came up once more. The security detail at the other end of the passenger space cleaned their weapons whilst sitting impassively on the benches along the fuselage.
Rory went through R's intelligence. 'Britain’s too hot now. Jamieson has things far better organized than formerly and our sceptered isle is now littered with CCTV, informants, control points; all travel is now slow and broken down into sections, each requiring its own documentation.
The population has been forced back into a dark age ‘village mentality’ where access to one’s immediate area is relatively painless but anything in the nature of broader movement necessitates a visit to the ‘local authority’, as it’s termed, accompanied by some fairly intense questioning, fingerprinting and the like.
The M1 is now, apparently, almost deserted, except for military vehicles, where once it was the carrier of exceedingly busy traffic. The private car has fallen into disuse, owing to the shortage of benzene and apart from the military, the only road users are the transports who continued their task of supply.
The new PM has stopped short of declaring out-and-out military law – that was red rag to a bull in the country – but the overall effect is not far off it. People disappear from their homes overnight, sometimes cars appear and then a family would wait anxiously for news.
People avoid each other’s eyes, they’ve learnt not to say too much and ‘loyalists’, as the regime refers to them, are spread throughout the community. At lunch, a worker might make a disparaging remark; three days later, he has mysteriously been replaced by a new colleague.
And yet people have all the food they could require and if they also utilize the ration system, they can supplement what they already have and live a not uncomfortable life, provided they’re prepared to stay in their immediate vicinity and not say boo to a goose.’
Julia was looking at him and he said, 'What is this, Julia, the third degree?'
'Everybody has to accept the consequences of their actions.'
'And are there consequences for you?'
'Oh yes, Rory ... and for you too actually. You just don't know them yet.'
They made it to their meeting point about 17:00 the following day, dug in and set in motion the contact with his two friends in Oxford he’d primed for this job during the last trip. It would soon be known if the couriers these two had co-opted would hold up but he and Julia had their escape route at hand, should they fail.
It was going to be another day before confirmation would come through. He reflected on the happy coincidence whereby the new Temple had actually sprung from the seeds of its own destruction.
It was no longer in Banbury Road, Oxford but down near the canal, north of the city, where the land flattened and ran down to the water. Set back from the water, it was a massive structure, its Doric columns distinctive, imposing and its cascading steps in three stages. A most unusual design for the Masons and for Rory, a most vulnerable one.
What he had access to were two weapons fanatics and what these ‘gentlemen’ had access to was a deconstructed tactical WW2 missile, long left to its own devices and what had struck them was that it would be quite an easy engineering feat to put it together again for such a dead-easy target as the Temple. It would be accurate enough for that job, with little chance of collateral damage.
What Rory wanted was for it to penetrate through to the grand hall, on the third floor, where the events would take place, perhaps disintegrating the entire upper half of the building.
The upside was that the getaway was to be by water until they reached a predetermined haven where the natives were friendly. It was going to take weeks to get back to the island, via a convoluted track.
It wasn’t actually necessary for either of them to be at the launch, as the two lads would do the job themselves on the road to the jumping off point and they had some winding up of their affairs to do as well. They’d moved the tactical shell to its new home already, they were organizing the propellent and that was the main difficulty without arousing suspicion. There were quislings everywhere.
As evening fell in Oxford, the half-light rationing rendered the streets gloomy and the triple tiered curfew system meant that the only ones out after dark were those who needed to be.
Plus one missile.
Rory’s confirmation came through and that meant that events had been set in motion. If they’d wished to reverse them, to postpone them, it was now far too late.
It was not particularly wet, not particularly nice as evenings go. One couldn’t even wax lyrical and say there was a sense of foreboding – there wasn’t.
There was just bleah.
People were now so far down the demoralization path, looking after N1, that even the coming conflagration might only have a marginal effect – that’s if it even got out to the general populace - the days of Sophie-Fleury press releases were well over.
The ordinary people, the servants and staff, the ORs – they were going to be elsewhere in the building, on lower floors. Unfortunately, blasts tend to be radial, also going down and up, so there was going to be some collateral.
That wasn’t good. It meant that they couldn’t take out the entire building, more was the pity.
This was running through the minds of all four this evening and as the train rollicked along, the two engineers went over it all again in their mind. The timer was set, it had worked in rehearsal by itself, the propellent was sufficient, the trajectory seemed right. They couldn’t see how it could be sprung at this late stage and their very travelling gave the lie to their intentions.
About 23:20, they pulled into the station and made their way to the dark blue Mini and from there to the first of the loops which would get them to the water. Rory looked at his watch.
At 23:40, they reached their boat and signalled, Rory and Julia now went below on their boat but, unbeknowns to Julia, he had another boat organized to take them off this one.
He'd scribbled a note: ‘Tom, thanks. Keep your course the whole way.' He took some money and wrapped it up, binding the package with cord from the old seat they were occupying, leaving it wedged between the fire hydrant and the wall.
It was time to go up on deck, the craft was now yawing and dipping in a pattern and time was short. The spray hit them in the face but that was about all – it was not as bad a night as it had seemed. They did see three other craft out there but only one Rory recognized – another fishing smack - and it was coming straight at them.
In the last few seconds, it turned broadside and the two boats clanged together, Rory and Julia both jumped and he fell on his wounded arm, biting his lip so as not to scream out as she fell on top of him, with the boat swaying.
The crew of Tom's boat saw they'd gone and rushed below, one found the package and took it to the skipper.
Tom handed over control, unwrapped the cloth, read the note, looked at the money, he peeled off a few twenties and gave forty to each of the crew, pocketing the rest and smiling to himself.
That had always been Rory.
It was apparent to Julia that if this was a fishing smack, it was a damned funny one. It was lower in the water, sleeker and though it had all the bits and pieces - dereks, nets, cranes, coachhouse etc., it was a mighty speedy vessel and it was all they could do to hang on, let alone make their way below.
Make their way below they did eventually, Rory renewed his acquaintance with the skipper, he was offered the wheel but declined with a grin and all seemed bouncy bonhomie on the high seas, as far as Julia could see.
She was ogled by the two crew, as she always had been by men and looked up at the sky, as she always had, Miss Ice. She went for a wander, as best she could, exploring the boat and all its nooks and crannies, found the loo and occupied herself there for some minutes, then made her way back to the coachhouse.
Rory turned to her and grinned, they'd done the deed and had made a pretty good team, he thought. She pulled out the FN57, shot him once through the heart, turned swiftly to the crew of three and put one round in the heads of each of the first two but had to aim for the third who was making for the door.
She turned back to Rory who had still not toppled over - amazing on this boat - she put another round in the stomach and placed a more accurate shot to the head.
Chapter 7 here … Chapter 9 here